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Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

The Gospel readings this month spend a great deal of time talking about how we spend our money. In today’s passage, Jesus tells his listeners, “Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out.” And certainly in our culture, worth is inevitably determined in economic terms. We can get a pretty good idea about what’s important to us by looking at how we spend our money. The irony is not lost on me that in the middle of this heat wave that’s settled over Cincinnati, I have a shiny new iPhone but no air conditioning. Largely by choice, but still….

But we forget that how we spend our time is also a good indicator of our priorities. The time-management guru Stephen Covey is often quoted as saying, “No one on their deathbed ever said they wished they’d spent more time in the office.” Sometimes I find myself wishing I had more than 24 hours in a day to get to all the things I want to do. But if I’m honest, I find that I waste a lot of time on things that really aren’t worth the time and energy spent on them. The specifics will be different for everyone.

What’s a waste of time for one person might be an expression of creativity for someone else. I find driving around on a Saturday extremely stressful. My niece, on the other hand, goes for a drive when she needs to sort out her thoughts about something. And when I was growing up, one of my dad’s favorite outings was to go for a drive on a Sunday with no planned destination, but rather a sense of seeing what interesting places we might discover. I found myself thinking about those Sunday drives as I read the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.”

Abraham is held up as the supreme example of faith by the New Testament writers. He was willing to travel great distances geographically and take great psychological risks based only on the word of God. And in fact, his and Sarah’s attempts to plan and schedule the working out of God’s promise always led to disaster. We can learn much from our great father in the faith about the promises God has made to us for the working out of our lives.

Someone once said, “If you want to hear God laugh, make plans.” In these days of hyper-scheduling, we often discover the truth of this as we’re waiting for a car repair, dealing with a sudden virus that hits on the day of an important meeting or watching the rain wash away a long-awaited sports event. At times like that, we need to remember that what we spend our time doing is most significant not for what it produces but for how it transforms our souls and brings us into a closer relationship with God and with those we love. The next time you find yourself stuck somewhere that you hadn’t expected, forget your other plans and ask God to let you know what you might take away from the unexpected situation instead.

The Scriptures tell us the big stories of salvation: the covenant with Abraham, the exodus, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. But Luke’s Gospel also reminds us that in the little things of life, we discover that God graciously gives us the kingdom of heaven. All we need to do is be open to making room for that gift in our lives. In small things, no less than in the great life-changing events, we can discover where our treasure lies.

And now I need to go knit a sock for my iPhone.

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The way the Sunday readings strike me often depends on what else I’m thinking about, and this week is no different. After spending some time Saturday reading around the blogosphere on the Motu Proprio, Paul’s letter to the Galatians made me think not of the circumcision controversy of his day, but of the liturgical issues of our own.  To paraphrase, does it matter whether the Mass is celebrated in Latin or in English as long as it’s celebrated well, prayerfully and faithfully? I’ve said in com boxes elsewhere, the Mass can be well or poorly celebrated in any language with any rubrics. The TLM isn’t magic. Nor are all progressives in favor of clown masses or pagan rituals.

I have nothing against Latin. I’ve belonged to several parishes that incorporate Latin and Greek on a seasonal basis. I love the Latin hymns and Gregorian chants. But as I listened to the opening prayer, I realized that I would miss so much of the English translation. I would hate having to follow along in a missal to get the translation. Yet, I can appreciate that for some, the awe and mystery of the TLM carries great weight. I’m glad that Pope Benedict is encouraging a peaceful coexistence. Because too often issues like this divide those who should be focused on our common belief. Paul spent most of his ministry fighting this problem in his communities.

Ann Landers and Dear Abby frequently used the acronym MYOB or “mind your own business.” As good as that advice is, perhaps it’s better if we recall that as Christians we are to be minding God’s business. In the Gospel,  Jesus reminds his followers to keep their focus where it belongs. It seems easier sometimes to complain about those who do things we don’t agree with, or those who we believe are wrong. Like the disciples rejoicing that the demons were subject to their words, we have a tendency to dance in triumph on the graves of our enemies. When we do that, we lose our center.

Isaiah speaks to the exiles of their return to Jerusalem and the temple, encouraging them in their rejoicing, but always reminding them that the Lord is the source of their prosperity. We need to remember that through all the changes the church has undergone in the millennia since Jesus and his disciples walked this earth, it’s still God’s church and his harvest is as abundant as ever. What are we doing to gather in that harvest for a spiritually hungry world?

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Six Feet Under, a quirky series on HBO, centers on a dysfunctional family running a funeral home. The tagline for the first season was “Every day above ground is a good one.” Sirach, the author of the first reading in today’s lectionary selection, would agree with that. He tells his listeners, “You who are alive and well shall praise and glorify God in his mercies.” And in the Gospel, Jesus gives us more specific ideas about how we can make our days on this earth more like the eternal goodness of God’s kingdom.

The rich man questioning Jesus seems to be what we might today call a “Type-A” personality. He’s looking for a checklist, black-and-white assurance that he’s got himself covered for the Final Report to God. Jesus first tells him what he’s known all along: Keep the commandments. The man’s anxiety suggests that perhaps he has an inkling that there’s something more he could be doing. Or perhaps he’s just one of those people who are perpetually insecure, fussing about things they can’t change or things that don’t actually affect their lives or the lives of those close to them.

Jesus’ next response seems designed to jolt the man out of his somewhat obsessive focus on himself: his efforts, his wealth, his ability to inherit eternal life. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” In other words, get outside of yourself. You have everything you need and want, but you’re still not content. It’s not doing you any good. Give it to those who have a real need for day-to-day necessities. But this is more than the rich man can do.

Most of us are more fortunate than we realize. We have our basic needs met. We have homes and regular meals. We enjoy good health and when we’re sick we have access to adequate medical care. But we don’t have to look very far to see those who lack even these basics. And today, as we celebrate Memorial Day and take time during our picnics and parties to remember those who have died, we know how much we have to be thankful for.

Our readings today offer us two cautions, easy to say and hard to do. Stop fussing about what you don’t have and do what you can to help others with what you do have. Then, not only will every day above ground be good, but we will have treasure in heaven as well.

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